Melania Trump on Friday named a senior manager at Washington’s Trump International Hotel to serve as chief usher of the White House.
Timothy Harleth, who worked for Mandarin Oriental hotels in D.C. and New York before joining one of the Trumps’ flagship hotels last year, will take the crucial position overseeing the staff of housekeepers, butlers and others who work in the first family’s living quarters and maintain the executive mansion.
Historically, chief ushers — who act as a kind of general manager — have come to the job with deep experience within the White House and gone on to serve long tenures. Only nine people have held the job since the beginning of the 20th century.
But that tradition has been abandoned in recent years; the job has changed hands three times in the past decade alone. This spring, the Trumps pushed out Chief Usher Angella Reid, an Obama appointee who had also come from the world of luxury hotels. The White House gave no reason for her firing other than a desire for change.
The first lady didn’t acknowledge any personal connection with Harleth in her hiring announcement, noting “his impressive work history and management skills,” but an aide said he knows the family’s likes and dislikes.
The Trump White House has frequently turned to business associates to fill key positions, and Harleth’s hiring marks a further mingling of former employees from the president’s real estate career into administration positions.
Most recently, President Trump appointed the family’s wedding planner, Lynne Patton, to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s office for New York and New Jersey, a unit that oversees billions of dollars in housing funds annually.
Norm Eisen, a former Obama ethics chief who is part of a group suing Trump over business dealings they consider conflicts, saw the Harleth hiring as part of a troubling trend of the new administration leaning on “family and personal retainers.”
“The problem with it,” he said, “is that you have people whose first loyalty is to the man” instead of the institution.